A Race Against Time to Save the Missing 3 Crore Indian Muslim Voters

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After his success in restoring 15 lakh missing Muslim voters to electoral rolls in Karnataka, the Hyderabad-based engineer Khalid Saifullah is working overtime to ‘rescue’ more than 3 crore missing Muslim voters across India

Safi H Jannaty | Caravan Daily

ELECTION after election, the Muslim representation in Indian Parliament and Assemblies has been receding. Given the fact that the Muslims represent 14.2 percent chunk of the country’s population, according to official census, simple arithmetic would suggest that the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, should have at least 80 Muslim MPs. Yet the existing minuscule number of 24 doesn’t even come anywhere close to this figure.

Doubtless, the exclusion is staggering and has deprived Muslims an effective voice and say in legislation and the country’s governance. The situation has started to look even bleaker under the current dispensation with not only the BJP but also other political parties trying to aggressively appease the majority community at the expense of religious minorities.

When the BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate in the elections for the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh where Muslims constitute over 19.2 % of the total population and still won with a thumping majority, the Muslims felt even more marginalised.

It’s not just Uttar Pradesh; it is the shared experience across the country with the Muslim being steadily ignored and silenced. In Assam, where the Muslim population is over one third, the BJP, which is in power, has just one Muslim MLA. We are also seeing malicious attempts there to strip Muslims of Indian citizenship while granting citizenship to other communities.

One area which is one of the chief causes of this grave anomaly has not been debated intensely is the missing voters’ issue and the list of eligible Muslim voters whose names have disappeared is quite massive. But for the endeavors of the Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy (CRDDP), a leading NGO, this issue would have remained passive and docile. Before the last Karnataka Assembly Elections in March 2018, CRDDP discovered that as many as 15 lakh Muslim voters in the state did not figure in the official list of voters ringing alarm bells of concern and apprehensions.

Using different dataset and methodologies, a team of CRDDP headed by Khalid Saifullah Syed, demonstrated convincingly to all of the concerned parties including the Election Commission of India that 15-20% of eligible voters were being denied the right to vote.  What awaited the team and the community at large was an even greater shock.

Using the same methodology and datasets that were deployed earlier, the team has discovered that out of 12 crore Muslim voters spread across the country, at least 3 crore voters, are missing from the registered voters’ list. The team also discovered that the Dalits and other lower caste communities too are faced with a similar situation and over four crore eligible voters out of a total of 33.8 crores are not part of the registered voters’ list. https://youtu.be/TH1KP_FtmJs

This massive irregularity prompted brainstorming to figure out a practical solution to identify the names missing from the Voters List and have them registered with the Election Commission. That led Khalid Saifullah, a software engineer by profession, and his team to have a mobile app designed, developed and launched. Aptly called ‘Missing Voters’ and available both on Androidhttps://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.missingvoters.missingvoters&hl=en

The app allows voters to enroll themselves in two minutes. However, the simple exercise involves a great of extraction, conversion and data analysis. It is a monumental exercise and requires both human and material resources. The exercise to collate and convert data from the Election Commission portal heralds the beginning of an excruciating task to locate missing voters and have them registered.

Google Play Store and Apple’s iOS AppStore, the App quickly finds from very minimum data inputs whether a person is registered as a voter or not and simultaneously allows the voter himself or volunteers to fill in the required form and submit it in the App on his/her behalf. The backend team of RayLabs Technologies then uploads the form on the Election Commission website along with the required documents for obtaining a voter ID.

Khalid Saifullah Syed, a software engineer by profession (left) with Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of B.R. Ambedkar. — File photo

Also, given the high illiteracy rate among Muslim voters and their ignorance coupled with a lackadaisical approach, the task becomes more onerous and daunting. When a quarter of eligible Muslim voters are being denied their right and especially when missing names point towards discreet yet deliberate attempts to strike or remove them, there remains no option but to burn the midnight lamp. The team has devised numerous means to reach the masses and attract volunteers from among the Muslim and backward communities. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4s3CEUss00

Besides, they have drawn in different social, religious and political groups and leaders of different regions to spread the message and encourage people to check, and register their names as well as help others in doing the same. As it is not easy to find volunteers eager to undertake the task without monetary consideration, cash incentives are being offered by RayLabs Technologies to volunteers and the team doles out Rs. 10.00 for adding each voter ID into the app and the data entry operator who uploads application on the Election Commission website also gets Rs.10.00 for each upload.

The battle to boost their voice and say in Parliament and the decision-making process needs to be fought on different fronts. Of course, the first step in this direction is to ensure that all of the Muslims who are eligible to vote are registered in the National Voters List bearing in mind that voter IDs or other IDs as authentic as passport and Aadhar card do not guarantee eligibility to vote.

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Muslim MPs since first Lok Sabha upto 2009.

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Emphasizing the importance of this movement, Safiullah says, “The right to vote is the most powerful weapon provided by the Constitution and only when a voter is registered, he/she could use this weapon and unregistered voters are like dead corpses”.

Given the deteriorating political environment in the country with the Sangh Parivar making all-out efforts to cling on to power, every single vote of Muslims and all secular-minded people will count to oust the party, which has never hidden its agenda to marginalize Muslims and other minorities.

When IT is being used to polarize voters and spread Islamophobia and hatred, the use of technology for the right cause of restoring democratic rights is highly commendable. Besides, spreading the message by all possible channels, the community could provide monetary support for the team to keep going in their endeavors.

It is a race against time and addition of 70-80 percent of the missing voters in the list before the 2019 General Elections could make a decisive difference in many constituencies, especially when the margin of victory in several regions is projected to be slender. Regardless of the fact that the Muslim votes could make a Muslim or a secular-minded candidate win, it is a fact that the political parties and political leaders will neglect and ignore the communities whose members do not make it to electoral rolls. Contributions to Saifullah’s noble cause can be made by visiting www.missingvoters.in

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